Matt Bennett is founder and CEO of Christian Union, a Christian leadership development organization. A native of Houston, Texas, Matt earned B.S. and M.B.A. degrees from Cornell University and holds a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He resides in New York City.
You may have heard the expression, "There's nothing to fear but fear itself." But I want you to think about that in a different way because I don't think that's really the truth. There are some things to fear. Today, in this series of messages, we're going to address that. We are doing a series of six messages of what I believe are America's greatest sins. This coronavirus has presented us with the opportunity to repent, to examine ourselves as the scriptures teach us to do. This message is on one of those sins. The first four of this series of six is on ways in which we need to get right with God. The second two have to do more with laterally with other people, even though it's all of course about being right with God.
This message is on the fear of God and the need to repent of human pride and the pride of human achievement. This is a really critical. First one, as we look at this. This is a problem in America today. The benefits of understanding this is that we can repent of this on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of America, and then we can experience the grace and favor of God.
When we repent of our sins, the Lord pours forth His Holy Spirit. It gives us power and strength to see revival come, to see lives change, to experience Him more personally ourselves, as well as in our communities. It's very, very helpful to see and know what does God value and how do we have a course correction in our relationship with Him? We can't simply assume that our relationship with Him is good. We've got to measure our relationship against the scriptures, and then make adjustments based on that. That's what we are all about doing.
First of all, I'm going to mention a few things that we do not need to fear. Then we look at the fear of God and then why we need to have a fear of God. Because there are some things we should not fear and don't need to be fearful of. People are correct when they say that the number one command in the scriptures is that we should not fear. That's absolutely true. That's given more time, but it depends on what it's about and how it should apply to us.
The first is that we should not be afraid of other people and what they'll do to us if we follow the Lord, if we honor Him, if we please Him. It can be tempting to be fearful of other people as we live a righteous life, but again and again, the scriptures tell us not to worry about it, that God will be with us. 2 Timothy 1:7, an oft-quoted verse is in this context that it's given. It says, "For God gave us His spirit not of fear, but of power and of love and self control." This addresses that issue.
Also, there's Hebrews 13:6, "So we can confidently say the Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?" There's a good treatise written a long time ago on this subject in the 1600s by a German pietist called Hermann Francke called "Nicodemus, a Treatise Against the Fear of Man." You can look it up on the internet. It's fantastic, going through how we should not be afraid of other people. We've got just the exact opposite in the United States. We fear other people, but we don't fear God. It needs to be the opposite.
Something else we should not be fearful of is the supernatural. Over and over again there are supernatural situations in the scriptures. The first thing that comes out of the mouth of the Lord, or the angel is, "Do not be afraid." For instance, Matthew 14:26 and 27, "But when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified and said 'it is a ghost,' and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, 'take heart it is I. Do not be afraid.'"
The same has played out when Zechariah is in the temple and he sees the angel telling him about the birth of a son. You see the same thing happen when deliverance has happened. Miracles happen at the transfiguration again and again. When something supernatural happens, we're tempted to be afraid, but we're told not to be afraid.
Thirdly, we're not supposed to be afraid of negative circumstances. For instance, in Matthew 6:25 it says, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" It can be tempting to be anxious and fearful about not having enough, having these things. God is with us. He loves us. He cares about the sparrow. He cares about us. We'll do just fine.
If we're a Christian walking closely with the Lord, we also shouldn't be afraid of death. Hebrews 2:15 says, "And deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." If you don't know the Lord, you are subject to lifelong slavery through the fear of death. Even when people who say they're not afraid, of course they are. What's coming after death? Only a terrifying expectation of judgment. If were walking closely in fellowship with our Maker, we don't need to be afraid of death.
The last thing that I'm going to mention here that we should not be afraid of is Satan himself. Now this is kind of half and half. He's very powerful and he can do things in some sense we should be afraid. In another sense, we shouldn't. His power is always limited by the Lord. You see this in the book of Job. The Lord allows him do certain things. You see with the Apostle Paul [that] a messenger of Satan is set against him, but it's all within what the Lord himself allows. He's nothing in his power compared to the Almighty God, but within a certain sphere God allows him to do it. But God won't give him too much power. He doesn't want Satan to get glory. It's limited what Satan can do. We should have some fear of him in certain circumstances, but nothing like the fear of God.
Things that we should fear -- there are a few things we should fear. The biggest--what I want to focus on--is the fear of God. Numerous times in the scriptures it says how important this is. It says in Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction." Also, Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the holy one is insight." There are multiple other passages in the Psalms and Job and elsewhere.
Not just in the old Testament, but in the New Testament as well. Some think that we should not have fear of God now that we're Christians. Not true. It says in 1 Timothy 5:20, "As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all so that the rest may stand in fear." That is fear of stepping outside the will of the Lord, fear of walking in unrighteousness. The healthy Christian has a fear of God.
2 Corinthians 7:1 says, "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." Holiness is connected to having a good fear of God. Christians should be fearful in two ways. The Christian who's walking outside of God's purposes, that is, walking in sin, should be very afraid of some judgment or responsive God coming against them. But even the Christian who's walking in fellowship with the Lord, we should be fearful of what could happen if we step outside of that. This is what the Bible teaches about what it means to walk in God and to walk in holiness of Him.
Why should we fear God? Why should we fear Him? Two things I want to mention, it says here in Ezekiel 8:22-23. It says, "When pestilence and bloodshed, I will enter judgment with him." Now, of course we're going through a pestilence right now. It says, "And I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur. So I will show," here we go, "my greatness," number one. Two, "my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord." God sends judgments. He sends problems and difficulties, and we should fear Him for His greatness and for His holiness.
First of all, His greatness. We fear Him because of His greatness. He is all powerful. He is the one who can not only kill a person as a human can do, but He can cast our souls into hell forever. We have every good standing. It's smart to be fearful of Him and His terrible power. You look at even the ten plagues of Egypt. If you remember the story, at first, the magicians of Egypt were able to imitate what Aaron and Moses were able to do. But after a few of them, they weren't able to do it anymore. Because God's not going to allow Satan to have that kind of power. He allowed Satan to have some power, but not that much. He is far more powerful. His greatness is extraordinary and His power is absolutely unbelievable and extraordinary. He has created all things. That's the first reason to fear Him.
The second reason to fear Him is that He is holy and righteous and He expects obedience. Now He's merciful when we repent of our sins. He forgives it. But if we don't repent of our sins, watch out. Why should we think that we will not spare judgment? Ananias and Sapphira were struck down dead. This is in the new covenant. It can happen to us as well. The Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11 -- they had judgment come upon them. Some of them even died. Same thing can happen to us. If we walk outside and we're not walking in holiness and devotion, He can, and sometimes judges.
He passes over it a lot of times, and doesn't give us what we deserve a lot of times. That's just out of His grace, but we should be afraid. Herod, in Acts chapter 12, was struck down. Here he was a non-Christian, but because he didn't give God glory, he was struck down. It says this, in Acts 12:20-24, "Now, Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. They came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace because their country depended on the king's country for food. On an appointed day, Herod put on his royal robes, took a seat upon the throne and delivered an oration to them. The people were shouting the voice of a God and not of a man. Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down," an angel of the Lord, not the devil, "because he did not give glory to God he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God increased and multiplied."
Here he owes glory to God. Anytime we do something as humanity, anytime even we get praise, we owe glory to the everlasting God. Even when the Apostle Paul was commended, he turned and gave glory to God. That's what we are to do. Just because the Lord is merciful and passes over the times which we don't do that, it doesn't mean that he's happy with it and we shouldn't repent of that.
This is the problem with the United States of America today. We're like those way back in Genesis 11. They built a tower of Babel. They just want to show what they could do apart from God and God judged them. Here in the United States, God has given us so much wealth, so much power. Arguably we're the most powerful nation in the history of the world and do we give God the glory? Do we honor Him and praise Him constantly?
This isn't just government officials, but leaders in the church and business people and whatever else. We all owe him glory, not just Christians. You see Herod, he was supposed to give God glory. He didn't. We saw what happened to him. This is a huge problem in the United States. I encourage you to repent, repent on behalf of yourself and repent on behalf of the United States of America. Repentance on behalf of a larger group is biblical. You see this in Daniel. You see it in Nehemiah that you repent on behalf of more than just yourself.
What it means is saying to the Lord, not just asking Him that He would move you to repentance, but actually repenting. Something like this, "Dear Lord, forgive me for not giving you the glory. Forgive me dear Lord, for not attributing to You what belongs to You and taking pride in human achievement, my own achievement apart from you. Forgive me of that. I repent of that. Dear Heavenly Father, I repent on behalf of the United States of America for doing the same, for taking pride in human achievement apart from You. I repent on behalf of my company. I repent behalf of my family. I repent on behalf of my city."
All of these different ways in groups in which we take pride in human achievement apart from the living God. The great news, that blessed news, is the Lord loves it, loves it, loves it when we do this. He smiles down on us. He extends us grace and mercy and love. It's truly exceptional. All the messages we see in the scriptures about the love of God, they all come flowing through. All the blessings come flowing to us as we repent of these things. This is, I believe, an extraordinary sin in the United States and for many of us personally. I urge you for the sake of your family, for your sake, for the sake of the nation that you repent on behalf of yourself and the country.
Thank you for listening this message. May the Lord bless you. We have many blessings, much love to come from our living God as we are in a right relationship with Him. God bless.